Creating Your Own Brand Network Like Oprah Winfrey


The idea for an official Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) was first whispered nearly two decades ago. It was 1992 (and I was 10!) when Stedman, Oprah’s unofficial husband, suggested the mega-brand create her own television network to combat the negative vibe on the air at the time.  After years of inaction and a failed attempt as a co-founder of the Oxygen Network (“don’t partner when you’re not allowed to be in charge and make a decision”, says Oprah), the OWN will replace the Discovery Health Network on January 1. It will deliver the Oprah Winfrey message of “living your best life” to nearly 80 million homes, 24 hours a day. Tired of talking about what her brand could be, Oprah decided to make it something more, jumping over her highest hurdle yet.

You probably don’t have the brand of Oprah, nor the resources to start your very own television network, but what you can do, right now, is to create a brand network. A network that, similar to Oprah’s, will play your message, 24 hours a day. That is the opportunity available to you through social media. And instead of talking about what your brand could be, you should be using these channels to do something more of it.

Here are some considerations when creating your brand network:

Who Is Your Audience?

Switching mediums means you have to take some time to determine what the impact will be to your audience – who is your audience now? Is it the same or will you be going after a new group?

Oprah’s target audience won’t change much when she switches from her hour-long powerhouse to her own branded network. She’ll still be targeting women from the ages of 25 to 54, but what about you? Who is the preferred audience for your brand network? Is it current customers? New customers? Those sharing your content online? Along with picking the best social network for your brand, you also need to pick the best audience for your message.

What Is Your Message?

Oprah knows her message. For her, it’s all about living your best life and giving people the tools to do that. It doesn’t matter if it’s a new self-help book she’s promoting, diet secrets or how to Dr. Phil your way to a better relationships the message is weaved into everything that she puts out. What’s yours?

One of the bigger mistakes I see when brands enter into social media is that they don’t know what their message is. They see social media as an extension of their Web site, but they’re not quite sure what to do with it. They haven’t crafted a voice, a purpose, an identity, anything. When you create your brand network, you want to have your message ironed out so that it can be built into everything else you’re putting out, making it a cohesive part of your strategy. Unfortunately, not even Oprah, nor the best bunch of SEO consultants, can help you decide what your brand message is. We can help iron it out, but you need to know what you stand for and who you are.

How Will You Determine Programming?

When you create your brand network, you’re going to be forced to grapple with the same decision I imagine Oprah is right now – how are you going to handle programming? What type of content will you produce? What will you play on your airwaves that will serve users’ interests, give them a reason to share it, and make them want to invest in your community? Sure, Oprah will be able to tap into the massive audience she’s already created, but she’s in a whole new league here. And so are you when you enter social media.

What kind of content should your brand channel include to make your audience give a damn?

Take a look at some of the shows scheduled to air on the OWN. Each piece of content has been built to reiterate the Oprah Winfrey brand message. Your programming should be worked out to do the same.

How Will You Tell People It Exists?

This is probably very indicative of the shows that I watch, but if I had a dollar for every commercial I saw about the OWN this weekend I could maybe pay for all the Christmas shopping I did. They were simply everywhere. There’s even an Oprah Winfrey Network Channel Finder so that Oprah’s audience knows where to tune in come January. Oprah knows one of her biggest hurdles will be making sure people know (a) that the network exists and (b) where to find it. Your brand network faces a similar channel.

Part of creating your brand channel in social media means promoting that channel so that others know it exists. Whether it’s a blog, a Facebook channel or a Twitter account, you need to be heavy on the self-promotional efforts out of the gate to alert people to its existence. Build buzz about your new brand network by talking about it on your site, on other people’s sites, on your other portals, by creating a street team of people to talk about it on your behalf, and by passing previews of your content on to the right people.

Come January, Oprah will be switching stages and upping the ante for her brand. Creating her own television network will give her a chance to do something bigger, with more value. Creating your brand network via social media will give you the same opportunity to take your brand and extend its value. Are you using it? If so, how?

Your Comments

  • Shane

    I love this analysis. Now – this really reminds me of something you might wanna check out called “Marketing Myopia”. It was a study done a long time ago by Theodore Levitt and he discussed the importance of knowing what industry you are in. For example, the locomotive did not fail because of the automobile, it failed because the train companies did not see themselves in the “Transportation” industry. I think Oprah is a perfect example of knowing what industry she is in and stays with a message that is both consistent and very non-myopic.


  • Mike Wood

    Really excellent points here. Top to bottom informative. Some good things to think about and act upon.

  • Heidi Cohen

    Lisa–Love the way you used Oprah as a example that all marketers could learn from. Regardless of how well known you are as a brand, you still need to go back to the basics. Thank you for sharing. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

    • Lisa Barone

      Thanks, Heidi. Oprah certainly makes a good example for pretty much anything marketing. :) I have to imagine she was as nervous to leave her safety net to start the OWN as many SMB owners are about getting involved in social media. Lots of stuff to learn and take from both.

  • BarbaraKB

    Focus, focus, focus on the content and audience you know. And let the rest fall by the way side! :)

  • john Falchetto

    Creating our own communities, or ‘tribes’ online is perhaps the best thing about Social Media. We get to create our own motorcycling gang or moms breastfeeding is best group (yes I just had a kid).
    I was wondering why you didn’t create and have your own network?

  • Joel Libava mean Lisa.

    Great post.

    Maybe you’ll get more than 10 ReTweets.

    I hope you guys have a great Holiday.

    Great seeing you at Blogworld. Again.

    The Franchise King®

  • Paul Cheney

    Ha! I just saw the commercial for the OWN network last night. I swear I had this exact same thought word for word ;)

  • Scott

    I absolutely love this post.

    This is something that I’ve tried to do, not because its fun, but because its a core requirement and I know that my clients probably don’t want to do it themselves.

    My new years resolution, one of them ;) is to put this and some other tasks that must be done by the client into the agreement because without it they can’t grow and develop their audience like they need to.

    I think my services provide a great launchpad but they need to be making the decisions instead of allowing me to create one for them, which results in a lack of originality and passion, the key ingredients for raising a new child (communities are like children).

  • Scott

    ok, I swear I’m not drunk, sorry Lisa.

    last try.. what I meant to quote was:

    Unfortunately, not even Oprah, nor the best bunch of SEO consultants, can help you decide what your brand message is. We can help iron it out, but you need to know what you stand for and who you are.